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Irish Derby live

Westover bagged the Classic that he deserved at The Curragh yesterday, as he put up a scintillating performance to land the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.

Unlucky in-running when third in the Cazoo Derby at Epsom three weeks ago, luck didn’t come into it yesterday.  The Ralph Beckett-trained colt was simply the best horse in the race on the day by a long way, and he proved that he was, unequivocally, under a ride from Colin Keane that was superb in its simplicity.

Sharply away from stall five, Keane squeezed his horse along for the first couple of strides in order to secure a position, then allowed him settle into his racing rhythm behind the early leader French Claim.  Westover travelled smoothly through his race in his rival’s slipstream before his rider allowed him move up on the outside as they rounded the home turn. 

It wasn’t until they straightened up for home that Keane asked his horse for his effort though and, when he did, the response was impressive.  Westover quickly bounded into a two-length lead as they raced inside the two-furlong marker and, from there, he just careered further and further away.  By the time he reached the winning line, he was seven lengths clear of his closest pursuer.

“Colin gave him a super ride,” said the winning trainer Ralph Beckett.  “He was very cool beforehand and he was very clear in what he wanted to do.  I never felt that Westover was going to stop once he got to the front.  He has a great temperament, and that shone through today.  It’s wonderful to get it done.  It’s a big day for us.” 

You had to feel for Rob Hornby, who had ridden the Juddmonte colt in four of his previous five races, including in that luckless run at Epsom, when he finished a running-on third behind Desert Crown after getting stopped in his run at a crucial stage of the race.  You couldn’t have faulted the rider for that run.  It’s Epsom, horses roll around in front of you on the cambers.  It’s racing.  

“Fair dues to Rob Hornby,” said Keane.  “I rang him this morning and he told me everything I needed to know about the horse.  He said that the horse gets the trip well, that he would get further, so don’t be afraid to use him up.  He’s a true gentleman.”

Westover was obviously the best horse in the race on the day by some way, but we didn’t know that beforehand, and Colin Keane gave him a ride that maximised his chance of winning.  It was a ride that majored in simplicity and, almost by definition, in efficiency.  Always handy on an uncomplicated horse in whose stamina you could have complete faith.  Clarity in thought and surety in implementation from a world-class rider.

There was no drama, there was no need for dramatics and, actually, if you are looking for drama, you’d better look beyond Colin Keane.  What Keane gives you is assuredness, confidence.  Reduced risk and minimal margin for error.  There was never a point in yesterday’s Irish Derby at which you thought that Westover wouldn’t win, and that is Colin Keane all over. 

It was a first Irish Derby for the rider, the latest landmark on a CV that just continues to expand.  An Irish Derby to add to a Group or Grade 1 winner in four different countries, three-time champion, and when he won the championship last year, he rode 141 winners, more winners than any jockey had ever ridden in an Irish Flat season before.  It’s difficult to believe that he is still only 27.

“It’s great to win our home Derby,” said the rider.  “It’s unbelievable.  I’m very thankful to the owners.  They have been very good to us and very loyal to us.  I’m very grateful to them for putting their faith in me.”

It will be interesting to chart Westover’s path from here.  The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot at the end of July looks like the obvious next step now.  A Group 1 race over a mile and a half at Ascot where he would take on his elders for the first time.  That race has also been mooted as a possible next target for the Epsom Derby winner Desert Crown, and a re-match between the pair of them, each of them now a Derby winner, would be fascinating.  

“We’ll discuss it with the family and with everybody,” said Ralph Beckett.  “Then we’ll decide what we do next.  It depends on how he comes out of today.  He’s in the King George, and that is certainly an option.  He’s not ground dependent, so we can really go where we want, when we want, when we are happy with the horse.”

© The Sunday Times, 26th June 2022